“Without soul, there’d be no rock and without rock, there’d be no soul.”
– Solomon Burke
Not, let’s be clear, because I didn’t know Solomon Burke. Not because I didn’t think he was fucking awesome. But I wasn’t expecting… this.
Like I’ve said before, part of my listening habits for working through the grand list are playing a few albums ahead, getting a feel for what’s coming up. Let’s face it, you can’t really give a decent opinion on an album after one listen – with all of these I like to play it a couple of times to let it sink in.
Anyway, that’s when this one surprised me. I saw Solomon Burke coming up a while back, and because I love all that old Stax soul stuff I was well up for it. It’s the “Everybody needs Someone to Love” guy right?
In fact, that’s not fair… I’ve been a big fan of Solomon Burke for about ten years now. I knew him before that of course, but it was a Jools Holland Hootenanny that caught my attention – the big guy sitting in what can only be described as a throne, looking suitably regal, singing his latest (and Holy Shit, the man was cranking out new stuff in 2003!), the mesmerising “Don’t Give up On Me”. I bought the album the next day of course, and so should you.
Anyway, that was the album that I had in mind when I heard this for the first time. So when “Just out of Reach” started playing (the playlist was out of sync in Spotify), and I found myself listening to what could conceivably have passed for a Dean Martin track, it took me by surprise – was this some strange genre-shift I wasn’t expecting?
I shouldn’t have worried. “Cry to Me” (yeah, the one from Dirty Dancing) is glorious, big band soul, “Won’t You Give Him” is stripped back to a spanish guitar and a few backing vocals, but feels all the better for it, and “If you need me” sounds like real Atlantic/Stax soul, outdoing Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye (who was Motown if we’re being picky).
“Hard, Ain’t it Hard” is a Woody Guthrie cover, and it’s given a latin feel, but as a demonstration of Burke’s more delicate vocal moments goes, it’s second to none.
“Can’t Nobody Love You” is the highlight of the album though, heartfelt and brilliant. There’s a wink to his contemporaries in there, “Sam bought you cake and ice cream, and he called you cherry pie, Ray Charles called you his sunshine but you’re the apple of my eye.” It’s brief but glorious.
“You’re Good for Me” is sleazily romantic, “You Can’t Love ’em All” brings a touch of calypso, and the rest of the album invites you to sink deeper into what is a thick, sweet pudding of some of the best soul music you’re ever likely to hear in your life.
This is a magnificent, genre-defining album. Burke has often been referred to as the most unfairly overlooked singer of soul’s greatest days, and this is just a glorious 35 minutes of the best soul music you’re ever likely to hear.